Stretching Without Bending
May 6, 2008 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to stretch my quadriceps without bending my knees?

My right knee doesn't bend all the way - a result of constant patella dislocation when I was a teenager. I cannot do standing, sidelying or prone quadriceps stretches (all demonstrated here) with my right leg. But I desperately need to stretch and am worried about damaging my knee again because I'm not. (I'm presently running 5 times/week.) Anyone have any suggestions?
posted by meerkatty to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't stretch your quads without bending your knees. Can't be done. You can improve your leg and knee strength and tone with terminal extensions. Basically only use the last 15-25 degress of extension to lift whatever weight you have on the machine.

As an aside, what is the problem with your knee that you can't bend it but are running on it 5 times a week? These seem like very incompatible problems.
posted by squorch at 1:00 PM on May 6, 2008

Make sure you are doing as much stretch as you can (your knee bends somewhat, right?) and also don't neglect hamstrings, groin, shin and calf, which are all important to knee health.

You might also talk to a sports therapist or chiropractor about electrical stimulation to keep the muscles at even strength. (IANAD, natch)
posted by nax at 1:14 PM on May 6, 2008

As an aside, what is the problem with your knee that you can't bend it but are running on it 5 times a week? These seem like very incompatible problems.

Sorry, should have been clearer. I can, of course, bend my knee. Running doesn't hurt it. But, for example in a standing quad stretch, holding my foot or ankle and pulling my calf back creates an incredible tightness in my right knee very quickly (that becomes painful). The degree to which I'm able to pull back doesn't feel like it has any effect on my quadriceps (ie. I can't feel any stretch).
posted by meerkatty at 1:26 PM on May 6, 2008

Try a foam roller. Sure, it's not a stretch, but it loosens muscles in a way that stretching doesn't. My calves were painfully tight after a stair workout a few months ago, and a roller was the only thing that worked.

Feels like a deep tissure massage depending on how much pressure you apply. Might try in the gym or ask a friend before you buy, or bust it out at Dick's and roll around alittle. Most start at $20.
posted by wrnealis at 1:26 PM on May 6, 2008

I had a trainer swear that the regular "touch your toes" stretches also stretch you quads. The only way I can get any kind of quad stretch is the old pull your leg up towards your back way.
posted by Carbolic at 1:47 PM on May 6, 2008

A cardio video I have demonstrates a modification for the standing quad stretch -- instead of taking her foot in her hand, the woman rests her foot on a railing that's about knee height. The seat of a chair will work as well. I just tried it, and by pushing my hips forward a little I could feel a stretch in that quad, and my knee is only at about a 90 degree angle.
posted by JanetLand at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2008

The only way I can feel a stretch in my quad during a standing quad stretch is if I CLENCH that butt cheek really hard. Don't use your hand to pull on your foot or leg.

See if you can rest your foot on your hand (or an object, as JanetLand mentions), and stretch the quad only by gently pressing your hip forward and squeezing that glute.

Also, maybe someone with more expertise can flesh this out, but can't you "stretch" your quad by contracting your hamstring?
posted by peep at 2:46 PM on May 6, 2008

BTW the stretching has not been proven to prevent injury - proper warm up does. Stretching does improve range of motion but if your concern is injury warming up is key.

More here
posted by bitdamaged at 3:16 PM on May 6, 2008

Have you tried the Alexander Technique?
posted by laconic titan at 3:26 PM on May 6, 2008

My right knee doesn't bend all the way - a result of constant patella dislocation when I was a teenager.

I can't figure out if you're saying you can't bend your knee mechanically, or if you can't bend your knee because you're afraid of dislocation.

Clearly, your knee bends some, right, because you're running? And that's OK? Then stretch gently. If you're running, you're bending. So, stretch to the point of that bend. You don't need to pull your heel up to your ear in order to get an effective stretch. You're merely stretching closer and closer to the mechanical point of resistance. If your mechanical point happens to be less than others, fine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:31 PM on May 6, 2008

The quadriceps has four heads (natch). Three of them can only be stretched by bending the knee, but you can stretch the rectus femoris, which crosses both the hip and knee, without bending the knee too much. You can use hip flexor stretches to stretch rectus femoris with less knee bending. If you did this stretch and sat back a tiny bit more, you might feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.

Meanwhile, you might consult a physical therapist about getting range back in your knee. They should also be able to answer your stretching questions.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:08 PM on May 6, 2008

My physical therapist stretches my quad while I'm lying on my side and he pulls my leg backwards. Obviously you can't do this by yourself, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
posted by radioamy at 6:52 PM on May 6, 2008

My sports medicine doctor informed me that I shouldn't bend my knee more than 90 degrees, and that all the quad stretches in your post would be likely to cause further injury. He demonstrated a stretch slightly similar to the one linked by jennyjenny, but the rear upper leg was perpendicular to the ground (instead of being pushed back), the knee was resting on the ground, and the upper body was gently leaning backwards, stretching the upper quads. Basically, instead of stretching the quads by pulling at the knee, you're stretching the quads by pulling at the hip.
posted by meowzilla at 7:35 PM on May 6, 2008

Some of these have been really helpful - thank you. After my run tomorrow I'm going to do some experimenting with them and see if I can feel that stretch that I'm longing to feel. Keep anymore suggestions coming!
posted by meerkatty at 8:38 PM on May 6, 2008

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